Opening this month at the Savoy Theatre, ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ is based on the 1988 film of the same name which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin. It follows the story of two con men who try to settle their rivalry by being the first to swindle $50,000 (or €50,000, in the case of the theatre production) from a rich heiress.
Adapted to a stage musical, the production stars Robert Lindsay (known from the BBC’s ‘My Family’) and comedian Rufus Hound, as conmen Lawrence Jameson and Freddy Benson. Samantha Bond is also an easily recognisable cast member, having appeared in several Bond films and ‘Downton Abbey.’
The Savoy Theatre itself was a great venue. We’d been given seats high up in the dress circle, which felt quite far away, although there were binoculars for hire if necessary. There were one or two occasions which had us, and nearby audience members leaning forward to see what was happening at the front of the stage. The seating was reasonably comfortable. The chairs had quite high backs and there was a fair amount of legroom – quite adequate for a show of this length with an intermission in the middle.
‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ is certainly unusual. I don’t know why I expected different from a production with such a title, but there is quite a bit of profanity and even more innuendo; much more so than in the film it is based on. It doesn’t feel inappropriate though and the show is much more witty than it is crude. It hasn’t lost its comedic value in the transition from film to stage – it’s possibly even funnier; what I feel suffered slightly though is pacing.
The production seems to take a long time to get going in the opening act and a long time to finish in the closing one after the final plot twist has been revealed (though revealed very well, I should add). The drawback of musical comedy is that the lyrics, funny as they may be, can easily be drowned out by an orchestra.
The setting is good for musical, involving sophisticated swindlers and top-class millionaire victims, and the production is very slick when combined with the orchestra, dancing and song, but the film itself is only 110 minutes long. I felt like the musical numbers at times seemed to just add length to something which would otherwise not be long enough to warrant two acts.
Having said that, I’m not a particularly big fan of musicals generally, and I probably enjoyed this more than any musical I’ve ever seen, so perhaps I’m being unfair.
The addition of a side story between one of Lawrence’s victims and his accomplice is another diversion, although it is an entertaining one. This additional story and the added length from musical numbers does result in a loss of some of the finer details in the film, but all of the deviations from the source material are very natural. The play certainly doesn’t take unacceptable liberties.
The musical numbers aren’t excessive and what I really did enjoy was the amount of fourth-wall breaking using the conductor himself. Fourth wall breaking in my opinion is one of the absolute best sources of comedy and is brilliant if done well and not used excessively.
‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ gets the balance just right – it is self-aware but doesn’t make itself look stupid. My favourite example of this was when Lawrence asks the conductor whether they had missed a scene after one of his victims is unusually forward about marriage.
The scene transitions are flawless. The stage is transformed so quickly and effortlessly it’s often hard to notice it happening, even though it’s rare for the lights to go down.
A staircase opens up to reveal a bedroom, a train carriage window becomes a balcony from which a character sings and characters travel from place to place without leaving the stage as the setting changes around them. It’s quite impressive and results in little downtime.
‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ is an exceptionally well produced and unusual musical. It is great for those looking for a laugh and something with a bit more maturity (or lack of it) out of the West End.